Boys play basketball in front of the collapsed National Palace in Port-au-Prince
Bedeviled Haiti usually finds its way into international headlines for the wrong reasons: poverty, natural disasters, potential pandemics, civil war.
The curtain has been pulled back on another side to Haiti, namely the country’s love for sports. As the website Grantland.com reports , Haitian basketball is booming against some especially long odds. In a country where many children don’t have proper shoes, two semi-pro basketball leagues are thriving. (Not too mention a strong soccer program. Haiti’s national team, Les Grenadiers, is No. 79 in FIFA’s country rankings , well ahead of Canada at No. 110)
Basketball’s surge in Haiti is an unlikely good-news story.
Haiti, population 10 million, has four basketball courts with roofs, and two outdoor courts that can’t be used when it rains because the surface is too slippery. The infrastructure is so slip-shod in some areas that during a 2003 game, 15 spectators died when a live overhead power line collapsed and fell into the stands.
Still, basketball’s popularity is surging, thanks in part to local interest in New York Knicks player Samuel Dalembert , who was born in Port-au-Prince and moved to Canada when he was 14.
Grantland reports that hopes are high for the six-year-old Association Haitienne de Basketball Corporatif , or ASHBAC, a six-team pro league that was founded following an earthquake in 2010 that caused $13 billion in damage and killed 150,000 people.
Player salaries, only $120 a month a few years ago, have climbed to $450. When one team, sponsored by a food processing company called Bongu, won the league title, its players were given a bonus of $1,000.
Two years ago, in 2012, the Senior Basketball League started, funded in part by Jasson Valbrun, a local businessman who offered a $10,000 prize for the championship team.
While the two leagues compete for fans, they are united in trying to establish a viable national team. More players are finding their way to U.S. college basketball through scholarships and funds are being raised for a national training facility. A stadium in the city of Cap-Haitien that had fallen into disrepair has been refurbished .
Perhaps one day soon, Haiti will participate in the Caribbean Basketball Confederation, a solid jumping off point for Haiti as it looks to compete in the international basketball world